Right after Justin and I got married I received an email from a friend of my husband’s criticizing my wedding. The email was about me, but not meant for me. The guy who wrote it had probably meant it for his then girlfriend, but his email had either auto-corrected her name to mine or he had suffered a Freudian slip of the email address.
So I did what anyone would when a friend accidentally sends a catty email about them to them, I wrote about it for Cosmopolitan magazine. It became an article about email accidents and we published real people’s email blunders-the “reply all” when you mean to just “reply”, the dirty photo accidentally sent to your kid’s pre-school teacher, and of course the email I received about me to me.
In addition to the round-up of real email accidents, there was a take-a-way about email etiquette. I interviewed a few Phds who specialized in everything from technology to bullying. One of them gave me the best advice I’ve ever received and that I still use to this day: never do conflict in email.
Never. Do. Conflict. In. Email.
Because email fights get out of hand fast.
And emails lack nuance, tone of voice, emotion and expression. (That is unless you include an emoji of someone rolling their eyes are giving the middle finger, but I don’t suggest it.)
And because email fights can be forwarded. And the 300 people your former friend forwards your email to only see that you called her some horrible reality show-style name without knowing that you were right and she was wrong. In other words, there’s no context. You just look like a jack hole who bitches people out in 200 characters or less.
I personally have a thing about b’ccs and forwards. Unless an email is transactional, like a question you’re forwarding on someone’s behalf to someone who might have the answer, I find it rude and incredibly disrespectful to email personal conversations or email fights on to others.
I also have a thing about having personal conversations in email. I don’t do it and I don’t like it when others do it to me. It’s the ultimate control freak move, to dump something serious on to someone when they can’t respond back. I also think it’s pretty cowardly. To me, email isn’t that time to say, “Hey I’ve got cancer” or “Are you getting a divorce?” That’s what phones or for. Or god forbid, an in person conversation.
The folks at Sony Pictures right now are reeling from having their whole system hacked with private emails being published as we speak. Judging by the nasty emails from producers and studio heads, I’m pretty sure Sony’s new corporate policy will entail, “Never do conflict in email.”
Right now, you’re probably doing a mental evaluation of all the emails you wish you hadn’t answered so fast, the conversations you wish you hadn’t had via email or the time that shitty friend forwarded your emails to 14 friends and one of your child’s teachers. It’s tough to take those things back once they’re written down and forwarded.
And since I’ve been privy to a half dozen email fights lately and a company as big as Sony Pictures is dealing with the fallout of an email being released calling actress Angelina Jolie a “spoiled brat”, I think we could all use a brush up on email etiquette.
Never Do Conflict In Email. Write this on a post-it or get it tattoo’d on your arm next to that Chinese symbol that you can’t translate, but remember this. If someone sends you a nasty email don’t respond. Or respond by saying you’d be glad to speak in person. But don’t fight over email. Worse case scenario, write that horrible mean nasty email you want to and don’t press send. Just delete it. It’ll feel good to write it out without the world of hate that comes from having a fight online.
Don’t B’cc Private Conversations. B’cc ing private emails is the equivalent of listening in on someone’s phone call. You wouldn’t do that so why is it okay to include someone in an email conversation without the other person knowing.
Don’t Show Other People Personal Emails. The only time an email should be shown or forwarded is when it’s purely transactional like a question you can’t answer so you forward it to the person who can. Otherwise, respect your friend and don’t share what they wrote unless you tell them.
Don’t Send An Email You Don’t Want 400 Of Your Friend’s Closet Friends To See. Always assume personal emails will be seen by others and always assume a work email can be seen by the boss.
Don’t Forward Emails To The Administrators At Your Kid’s School. Sometimes parents get into fights. It doesn’t mean their children’s school needs to be involved. Unless your squabble is about the safety of your children, it’s totally rude to forward your girl fight to your children’s school’s adminstrators.
Don’t Forward An Email Fight With Your Spouse To Your Friends. Remember, turnabout is pair play. Would you want him showing his buddies your emails at poker night? Then don’t do it to him.
So the moral of the story is, be respectful even when you’re pissed off. The problem with email is there’s no cooling off period. You could be driving, pull over and respond to a heated email and your friendship will have ended by the time you get home. So step away from the email and take time to cool it. And if you really need to have it out, pick up the phone. Chances are things won’t get so ugly.
And if you forget that you don’t do conflict in email, beware. The guy who accidentally sent me that mean wedding email about me to me happened upon the article one day while sitting in his dentist’s waiting room. Apparently he’s a Cosmo reader.
So yeah, never do conflict in email.
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